This week we are bringing you some hiking & trail safety tips from The Trailmaster, John McKinney
Having written 25 books on hiking and authoring a weekly hiking column in the L.A. Times for 18 years, I’ve found myself on the “expert source” list of a fair amount of media folks. And often the calls I get aren’t to talk about the beauty of nature or the joys of hiking but to comment on yet another tragedy where a hiker has lost his or her life on the trail. While I appreciate the opportunity of spreading the word about hiking safety I wish the circumstances were different…and less frequent. It seems each year more hikers are either finding themselves unprepared in the wild or taking unnecessary risks for which they pay the ultimate price. Hiking is a safe activity but to think about nature as if it were a theme park is to make a potentially tragic mistake. But with some simple rules, and a bit of common sense, hiking can be safely enjoyed by most anyone.
The Boy Scouts got it right when they said “Be prepared.” And that starts with the 10 essentials that should be in every hikers pack each time their boots hit the trail. They are: A good map, a compass, more water than you think you’ll need, extra food (don’t skimp on the calories) extra clothing in case of bad weather, a First-Aid kit, a pocket knife, a flashlight, sun protection and waterproof matches along with a fire starter as back-up.
Forrest Gump also got it right when he said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Being smart on the trail includes being prepared on the trail.
Nothing can spoil a good hike like painful feet. Take the time to research and invest in a good pair of boots based on the kind of hiking you’ll be doing. When you try on the boots make sure to wear the kind of socks you’ll be wearing on the trail and spend enough time walking around the store, or an incline the store may have set up, to properly gauge the fit. Pay special attention to the toe box. If it’s tight it can lead to extreme discomfort later on, particularly when treading downhill.
Don’t cut switchbacks. Ever. Hikers that do can cause serious erosion beyond missing the point of hiking which is an appreciation of the journey – not just the destination. To do your part to curtail switchback cutters, move some rocks, brush or a fallen tree branch in front of the shortcut. It will send a message. And while this goes without saying for anyone who enjoys the outdoors; Pack It In – Pack It Out.
One of the most common mistakes by hikers is misjudging the time and ending up on the trail after dark which, if someone isn’t prepared to spend the night, can be disastrous. So before you head out know exactly what time the sun sets and plan your return accordingly. Also, make sure to consider the elevation gain or loss of the trail. Heading uphill to get back to the trailhead? Then give yourself extra time to compensate for the slower pace.
When you’re on the trail keep your eyes open. That, along with always staying on the trail of course, are the best preventative measures to avoid getting lost. Stop every once in a while and take in your surroundings. Where’s the sun? How close is the stream? Are you walking towards or away from the fire lookout on the ridge? If all you see are your boots you aren’t just missing out on possibly valuable landmarks but also the beauty of your surroundings.
Even with preventative measures, poorly signed junctions or paths covered by impediments or snow can send a hiker off track. If you do feel you’re lost you need to stop, think and don’t panic. Return to the last point you remember being on the trail and you’ll probably see you missed a switchback or turn. Above all else don’t get more lost by blinding walking in search of the trail. Pinpoint your location by memorizing distinctive features of the terrain or plant life before setting out.
Considered the nation’s authority on hiking, John McKinney has written 25 books and trail guides on the subject including the recent “The Hiker’s Way: Hike Smart. Live Well. Go Green.” which offers an A-Z look in to America’s most popular outdoor recreational activity. Known as “The Trailmaster,” John also wrote a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times titled “Hiking” where for 18 years he shared his local, national and international trail excursions to help encourage readers to enjoy the natural environment. More information can be found at www.thetrailmaster.com